Psaki brief: Biden Georgia voting fact check, infrastructure definition, border crisis 4/5/2021

April 5, 2021


On 4/5/2021, during the news briefing, a reporter asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “Is the President going to change the way that he talks about the new Georgia voting law? Because in that interview that you referenced, he said, the law would end voting “at five o’clock when working people are just getting off.” And he said it would end voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over. But the Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios because that part of the law gives counties the option to extend voting hours. And so I’m just curious if the President is going to change the way that he’s talking about it.

Psaki: Well, fundamentally, the President doesn’t believe it should be made harder to vote; he believes it should be easier. And this bill makes it harder to request and return an absentee ballot. It collapses the length of Georgia’s runoff election, making it harder for large jurisdictions to offer early voting. It imposes rigid new restrictions on local officials’ ability to set polling hours to suit the needs of voters in their county. Those are all pieces of the bill.

So his view is that we need to make it easier and not harder to vote, and that will continue to be what he advocates for.

Question: But the thing he said has been determined by election law experts to be not true. So I’m just curious if he’s going to stop saying that.

Psaki: Well, again, I think we can — the fact checkers will also tell you that this bill does not make it easier for people across the state of Georgia to vote, and that’s where he has concerns.

Question: Sorry, can I just do one quick follow to Peter? The President does acknowledge that the new law doesn’t change Election Day voting hours, right?

Psaki: Well, look, Kaitlan, it also doesn’t expand them for early voting, and makes early voting shorter. So there are a lot of components of the legislation he is concerned about, and that’s what he was expressing.

Question: Right. But does he — he does acknowledge that?

Because his comments had been confusing about closing it at 5:00 p.m.

Psaki: That’s correct.

Question: So he does acknowledge that it doesn’t change the voting —

Psaki: I think what’s important is to report on all of the components that make it more difficult to vote in the package in the legislation.
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Full Transcript
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 1:37 P.M. EDT

Psaki: Okay. All right. Just one update for all of you at the top.

The President is always — is obviously quite focused on the American Jobs Plan that he just announced last week. As you all know, he’s already had two bipartisan congressional meetings on infrastructure in the Oval Office, and he plans to continue speaking with leaders from both sides of the aisle to get their input, either on the phone this week or when they return. He looks forward to welcoming members to the Oval Office again.

And this work is being supported, of course, by the Jobs Cabinet. Many of you may have seen members of the Jobs Cabinet out over the weekend, speaking on your airwaves directly to the American people.

And the Jobs Cabinet members have also been active and engaging with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and they will continue to play that role over the course of the coming weeks and months.

So, Jobs Cabinet members to date have made 56 calls to the 28 Democrats and 28 Republicans who are the chairs and ranking members on relevant committees. They have held — we’ve held briefings with the entire House and Senate invited. The House briefing had 124 representatives on, including 31 Republicans.

Senior White House officials have briefed bipartisan working groups in both chambers, including the group of 20 senators and the Problem Solvers Caucus. And as I noted, the President looks forward to welcoming members when they return next week.


With that, Alex, go ahead.

Question: Great, thanks. I have a couple of questions on the infrastructure and jobs plan, and then one item for immigration.

Psaki: Okay.

Question: To start, the jobs plan has been receiving opposition from both the left and the right. On the right, this weekend, Senator Roy Blunt said that it would be an easy bipartisan win if the bill were more narrowly focused. So why not reduce the bill down to just infrastructure and take out planks like the care workers and the electric vehicle aspects?

And then, in addition to that, on the left, Senator Joe Manchin said today that he can’t support a 28 percent tax increase on corporations. So is the White House open to lowering that? He said the highest he would support is 25 percent.

Psaki: Well, first, on the infrastructure question, let me say that some Republicans — who have been vocal — think investing in water systems and replacing pipes so Americans can have clean drinking water is not infrastructure, but the President does.

Some don’t think investing in high-speed rail is infrastructure; the President does. Some believe building charging stations to support America’s electric vehicle future is not infrastructure; he believes it is.

Some don’t believe that America’s broadband capacity, which is one third of the American — of American — the American people, I should say, don’t have access to broadband, and improving those lines and expanding that access is not infrastructure; the President does.

Some believe that addressing the issue of America’s supply chain so that we’re never again at the mercy of China or any other nation is not investing in infrastructure; the President disagrees.

Some don’t believe that rebuilding schools so that they’re safe and asbestos-free isn’t investing in infrastructure; the President disagrees.

And finally, some don’t think that building a support system to take care of elderly parents or kids with disabilities at home so people can go back into the workforce — some of those 2 million women who have left the workforce during the pandemic — some think that that is not investing in the infrastructure — our workforce of this country that are the backbone of this country; the President disagrees.

But, with all that being said, he is — welcomes their ideas, hopes he puts them for — hopes they put them forward. And he looks forward to having conversations with members of both parties about how to address the long-outdated effort to update our infrastructure.

Question: And then on Manchin: Is the White House open to reducing the corporate tax rate?

Psaki: Well, first, the President felt it was responsible to propose a way to pay for his proposal. That’s exactly what he did. He knows some members think it’s too big. Some think it’s too — too small. Frankly, there have been folks who have come out on both sides, which we fully expected. He knows that some will come forward with different ways to pay for this package, and some may have views that it shouldn’t be paid for at all.

So we fully expect that from Senator Manchin and other members, and we expect the question of how to pay for the package, if we should pay for the package, to be part of the discussion moving forward.

Question: So the White House is open to that conversation?

Psaki: We’re open to hearing ideas and proposals from members, and we encourage them to put them forward.

Question: Okay. And then, on immigration: We released a poll earlier today that suggests that 25 percent of Americans — only 25 percent — approve of the way that the President is handling the situation at the border with respect to unaccompanied minors. So does this poll suggest that the President needs to reevaluate his approach to that issue?

Psaki: Well, if I read the poll correctly, it also had 59 percent of Americans believing that unaccompanied children should be treated safely and be protected in that way. And 65 percent supported the reunification of families.

There’s no question this is a difficult challenge, and the President believes he was elected to address hard problems. And his focus, right now, is on expediting processing at the border, opening up additional facilities, addressing the root causes, and restarting programs to incentivize kids from applying from within their countries. So that’s his focus right now.

Question: So is the issue just a messaging issue then? I mean, how do you explain the fact that Americans are not in favor of what the President is doing at the border?

Psaki: I’m not sure that’s an accurate depiction of the poll, given that there was — about one-third of the people who replied didn’t have an opinion at all. So —

Question: Forty percent said that they did not approve though.

Psaki: Fair. But also, a three — one third said they had no view.

So I think that, right now, our focus is not on looking at the poll; it is on implementing solutions, which is, no question, to address what is — what we view as, no question, a difficult challenge and hoping that we can ensure we are protecting these kids; we are continuing to reassert to the region “the border is not open.” The majority of people — of adults who come to the border are turned away. Continuing to implement programs in the region, whether it’s working with them to address root causes or working with them to restart programs that can help kids from — apply within country.

That — we feel those are the ways we can help address what is, no question, a challenging issue.

Go ahead.

Question: Thanks. First, I want to ask about the budget. What’s the holdup on releasing it?

Psaki: We expect it to be soon. It’s not the full budget, as you know. But just for clarity purposes, it’s a kind of discretionary guidance. But we hope it to be soon — that it will be soon. We expect it to be very soon. I don’t have a timeline on that quite yet.

Question: Well, every previous White House has released at least a budget blueprint or an outline, abbreviated budget by the end of February. So what’s the holdup here? Why is the delay now stretching into April?

Psaki: Well there’s no question, as we talked about during the transition, that we dealt with some impactful intransigence from the outgoing political appointees. We had some cooperation from the career staff, but we didn’t have all of the information that we needed.

As you all know, we also don’t have a budget director. We have not had a budget director confirmed. We have now an acting budget director, which is an important step forward. But, again, we expect it to be soon. And as soon as we have a timeline, we will make sure you all know.

Question: I also wanted to ask you a question about Major League Baseball. The League decided to move its All-Star Game out of Atlanta. That’s something that the President said he supported before. Does he then agree with their decision to move that game out of Atlanta because of the voting law?

Psaki: Well, I wish I had had this with me on Friday because I got asked a question, and there’s some help — what I thought would be helpful context. And I know you probably don’t have the transcript in front of you.

So when the President was asked during an ESPN interview last week, he was asked the question: “Last week, Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director said that he would look forward to discussing moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta in the wake of Georgia’s governor signing into law a bill passed by the Republican-led state legislature to overhaul how its state elections are run. How do you view this possibility of moving the All-Star Game out of Georgia?”

And he said, quote, “I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsible. I would strongly support them doing that.”

So he was not dictating for — what Major League Baseball should do, that they should — dictating they should move the All-Star game. That is — was their decision. They made that decision. And as he stated earlier, he certainly supports that.

Question: So he does support the decision to move the game then?

Psaki: Well, he supports them being able to make the decision and respond to what their players ac- — you know, asks are, given many of them are impacted, of course, by these laws.

Question: Okay. And then just —

Psaki: This law.

Question: — one more on vaccines. So there’s a report over the weekend that Governor DeSantis, in Florida, had been dealing with some sort — some sort of improper dealings with the supermarket chain, Publix, as far as distributing the vaccine. So did those reports give the White House any pause in working with Governor DeSantis in the vaccine program?

Psaki: Well, first, let me say that — for those who weren’t following this in Florida — one of the concerns we’ve had as we’ve watched the data is that 17 percent of Florida’s population is African American, but less than 7 percent of vaccinations have gone to African Americans in the state.

That’s one of the reasons that we opened four FEMA sites in Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Orlando. And these sites disproportionately serve communities of color. So we’ve been closely watching this data and these statistics, as we would in any state across the country. And we took these specific actions for that purpose.

We are not going to hurt the people of Florida just because of the steps or actions of leadership. And we will continue to take actions to ensure that the vaccine is equitably distributed.

Go ahead.

Question: Just to follow up on the baseball All-Star Game, I know that you made the point that he did not dictate the League move the All-Star game out of Georgia, but he likes to say the words of a president matter; he said he would strongly support if players in the League wanted to do that. And they did it. So does he think that the PGA should move the Masters Tournament, that begins this week, out of Georgia?

Psaki: I’m not here to call for anyone, on behalf of the President or the Vice President or anyone, to take steps in reaction to the law in Georgia. The President was asked a direct question, and the context of the question was also around the League meeting to discuss this exact issue, and he answered the question.

Question: So, then, should we believe that if PGA Tour players, who are arriving in Augusta this week or today to register for the tournament, if they got together and decided — or talked about not participating, that is something he would strongly support? Or is there a difference between the way he sees —

Psaki: I’m sure you will ask me that question — or him this question. But our focus is on doing what we can to advocate for making voter — voting easier and more accessible around the country. And that’s where our efforts are going to be from the White House.

Question: Before the President said that he would strongly support moving the All-Star game out of Georgia, did he consider the economic impact? Because the Cobb County Tourism CEO is saying they’re going to lose $100 million in lost business activity, 8,000 hotel rooms. Did he think about that before he said he would strongly support the move?

Psaki: Again, he was doing an interview. He was given the context, as I just read out to you in full detail, of how the question was asked, and he answered the question.

Question: Okay. On immigration, 171,000 migrants were caught at the border in March. That’s up from 100,000 in February. If the trend continues, do you have a sense of how many migrants the United States can handle this month?

Psaki: Well, first let me say that there have been numbers that have been reported out there. CBP has not released their final numbers; we expect that to happen later this week. And for full context, there are numbers that, when they release them, will be out, like you cited — some version of what you cited. But those are reflecting of people coming, and they — we should also be reflecting — and I hope I’m encouraging people to do this — people who are turned away. Because again, single adults, based on your own reporting and everyone’s reporting, continue to be — the vast majority continue to be turned away at the border.

I don’t have any predictions about numbers that will come. We’re obviously taking steps, as I addressed in response to Alex’s question, to address the root causes, put in place programs that people can utilize to apply from in-country, send a clear message the border is not open and that we’re turning away the majority of adults when they come to the border.

Question: There is a separate report that — speaking about the adults, there are 1,000 “got-aways,” mostly in Arizona — people who are seen, detected, but they’re not chased because authorities are so busy processing the families. The Washington Post is reporting that some of these people are carrying drugs. Has the administration maybe reached out to Mexico to try to stop the flow of drugs or help stop the flow of drugs into American communities?

Psaki: That’s always a part of our diplomatic conversations, certainly through the State Department and other entities within the government. I’m happy to check on that specific reporting. I had not seen that report before I came out here.

Question: Okay. Thank you.

Psaki: Great. Go ahead, Kelly,

Question: In clarifying today, are you trying to roll back what the President said about the All-Star game?

Psaki: No, I’m trying to articulate clearly to everyone what he said and what the context of his remarks were, the question that was asked, and the full scope of his answer. And I think it’s been shorthanded, to no one’s fault, because it was — it’s been repeated a bit without the full context.

Question: And Mitch McConnell says that, “We are witnessing a coordinated campaign by powerful and wealthy people to mislead” and to use the bully pulpit about this law. Will the White House say explicitly that it is not trying to influence corporations or organizations to take action on state-level decisions like this?

Psaki: We’ve conveyed it, and I’m happy to answer your question directly. We’ve not asked corporations to take specific actions. That’s not our focus here. Our focus is on continuing to convey that it’s important that voting is easier, not harder; that when there are laws in place that make it harder, we certainly express an opposition to those laws.

Question: A couple of foreign policy questions. It’s now April 5th. The Afghanistan decision is due soon. Obviously, troops and their families are interested to know what the President’s decision will be. What more does he need before he can make or announce this decision?

Psaki: Well, as the President has said before, it will be tough to meet the May 1st deadline for full withdrawal, for logistical reasons. We are continuing — he’s continuing to consult internally with his national security team and advisors and, of course, also with our partners and allies.

And, you know, he is not — he’s been working on these issues — foreign policy issues, national security issues — for several decades now and, of course, wants to take the time to make the right decision.

Question: So our expectation should be that it will go beyond May 1st with the “tough to meet” portion of your answer?

Psaki: Well, he set the expectation it will be tough for a full withdrawal, for logistical reasons, by that timeline. And that certainly has — also something that we’ve conveyed clearly to our partners as well. But in terms of what’s next, you know, he just wants to take the time to make a decision.

Question: What’s the President’s level of concern about what’s happening in Jordan, long an important country and an ally and a buffer against some of the hotter events in that part of the world? Is this something where he would have any direct interaction at this point?

Psaki: I would expect it would be through the State Department and wouldn’t expect that. We’re, of course, closely following the reports out of Jordan. We’ve been in touch, as an administration, with Jordanian officials. King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States; he has our full support.

Go ahead.

Question: So, on Ukraine — we talked about this on Friday — but the State Department has now asked Russia to explain these provocations. Does the President have any plans to reach out to President Putin on this? Has it elevated to that level of concern?

Psaki: I don’t have any calls with President Putin to predict at this point in time. Last week, it was read out that national — that our Secretary of State had a conversation with his counterpart; also, the Secretary of Defense had a conversation with his counterpart.

We remain concerned by the recent escalations of Russian aggressive — Russian aggression and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine. That’s something we’re watching closely. Of course, we’re aware of their — of the Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s border.

But at this point, we’ve been in touch at the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense level, which is pretty high, as we all know, but I don’t have any calls from the President to predict for you.

Question: Okay. And just one more.

Psaki: And he, of course, spoke with the — with the President of Ukraine on Friday as well —

Question: That’s right.

Psaki: — about this specific issue.

Question: Yes. So, on the — on the front — on the tax front: I understand that you are, you know, not willing to sort of close in on a specific number that you might agree with Joe Manchin. But have you done a detailed analysis of what the delta would be; say, if you agreed to 25 percent, how much less income revenue would that distribute? Are you doing that, kind of, in a detailed analysis in preparation for these negotiations?

Psaki: Well, I mean, first, I think it’s important to remind people that the corporate tax rate we are proposing is lower than it was in 2017; in fact, it’s lower than it was from World War Two until 2017. So we are still proposing a rate that is lower than it has been for the vast majority of time, since anyone in this room was alive, I think — or around that amount of time. So that’s our proposal.

Of course, what the President proposed — raising it to 28 percent — and combined with the other tax proposals would pay for the totality of the package. That’s why he felt it was a responsible proposal to make.

Sorry, this person was throwing me off outside for a second, but everything is fine. (Laughs.)

So that he felt it was responsible to make. There will be different ideas for payfors, right? There will be different ideas for tax proposals. That will all need to be weighed by a range of questions, including — with Congress and with leaders in Congress and outspoken members in Congress about whether it should be paid for, over what period of time, how much should be paid for, what the options are for paying for it. There are some that are proposing, as you all know, SALT deductions and other areas that are not revenue raisers.

So this will be all a part of the discussion. And, absolutely, our economic team and number data crunchers will be crunching numbers as we proceed, but we’re kind of in the early stages of these discussions at this point in time.

Question: And just real quickly: On OMB, you mentioned that you don’t have a budget director yet. When do you anticipate that the President will nominate someone to replace Neera Tanden? And then I have one more quick international one.

Psaki: Sure. And I should have conveyed — which I did, but I will reiterate: We, of course, have an acting OMB director, Shalanda Young, who is beloved by Capitol Hill, as you all know. And so she is, of course, playing a very important role. But we didn’t have one for some period of time because she was only recently confirmed as the deputy and now the acting.

I don’t have a personnel update for you in terms of the timeline for nominating — formally nominating a replacement on OMB.

Question: A lot of people have said that they think Shalanda Young should just get the job; I mean, that she should be nominated for the number one job. Can you say anything more that?

Psaki: I would just say the President thinks so highly of her that he’s nominated her to serve as the Deputy Director of OMB, which is also an enormous job. But I’ve been here long enough not to make predictions of where he will land on a personnel announcement.

Question: On the international front —

Psaki: Yeah.

Question: — so the IMF and the World Bank —

Psaki: Yeah.

Question: — are meeting this week. This is a big deal internationally. One of the issues that has come up is a — sort of a need to expand the debt relief initiatives to beyond countries that are just the poorest countries; that there are significant numbers of countries that are, you know, middle-income countries. Is this something that the President is willing to take on? And is this a message that he wants his officials to send during these important meetings?

Psaki: Mm-hmm. Well, there’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened global economic inequality. And as has already been announced by the Treasury Department, we are working — the U.S., the United States — is working with IMF management and other members toward a $650 billion general allocation to IMF member countries.

It’s part of a package of broader international efforts to support the global recovery. It also includes robust support for the IMF, multilateral development banks, debt relief in some cases, all alongside countries taking necessary reform steps. So we’re working closely with the IMF and other member countries, given we are all working through the impact of a global pandemic.

Question: You don’t want to say anything about expanding the universe of countries that are going to get help? Because right now it’s limited to just poor countries.

Psaki: Yeah —

Question: Poorest countries.

Psaki: Yeah, I would point you to the Treasury Department for more specifics beyond that.

Go ahead, Anne.

Question: So one thing quickly, and then I have something else. Is there any update on when you or the President will release his latest medical records, or any update on his plans to visit his medical provider?

Psaki: I don’t have an update. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s one we can provide you all soon, in short order.

Question: Anything more precise than “soon”?

Psaki: I’ll have to check with the team, and — before I give you a specific timeline of when we’ll have that available.

Question: And then, back on the MLB question: Given that, as you say, the President supports the ability to make this decision, does he also support other organizations or businesses making similar moves — which, I guess, would broadly be called “boycotting” — other events in other states should they pass similar laws? I’m thinking here of Arizona and others that may be considering similar voting restriction laws.

Psaki: That’s not something we’re calling for from the White House. Our focus is on working with Congress to put in place voting rights legislation, working with leaders in — who, like Stacey Abrams and others, who are advocating for more expanded laws and more expanded information out to people to make it easier to vote. So those are really — that’s really where our efforts are focused.

Question: Although — I mean, some of this may be moving at a faster pace in these states than you’re going to be able to get an omnibus national voting rights law passed. So there will be moments of — there’ll be inflection moments here, between now and then, where other organizations would be looking at making the same kinds of decisions that MLB made. Does the President think they should be able to make those decisions to pull out of ?

Psaki: I mean, broadly speaking, of course the President and we all believe private sector entities are going to make decisions, and that’s their role to do so.

What I’m conveying — what I can speak to is what our focus is on and what our role is here from the White House and what his energies will be directed toward, which is voting rights legislation, continuing to voice and advocate for the need to make it easier, and not harder, to vote. That’s where he will be spending his time and effort, as will we in the White House.

Question: And then, lastly, on Iran. With the indirect talks beginning tomorrow — I mean, here it is the first week of April. This is a foreign policy priority of the President’s through — all throughout the campaign, really one of the very few specific things he said he wanted to do. Is he disappointed that it has taken this long to get to what isn’t even a face-to- face negotiation? And does he think that there’s still time to pull a deal together before Iranian elections in June?

Psaki: Well, he knows, from living through it — as do you, from covering it for many years — that diplomacy can take time, and sometimes it is not at the pace that everyone would prefer. And we certainly have experience, as does he — from having been in the Obama-Biden administration — of the time it took to work through a diplomatic process.

I don’t have a prediction to make in terms of how long it will take. You’re right that, of course, what is happening in the coming days is really focused on, you know, indirect talks that are happening through the Europeans. That is still, in our view, a step forward toward diplomacy, and that remains our first objective.

Question: And does his position remain that the U.S. will not drop any sanctions until Iran returns to full compliance?

Psaki: Well, his position hasn’t changed on how he’s approaching, or we should approach, the negotiations. And we certainly expect that the primary issues that will be discussed over the course of the coming days are the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance with the terms of the JCPOA and the sanctions relief steps that the United States would need to take in order to return to compliance as well.

But we’re just at the beginning of the talks, and we don’t anticipate presently that there will be direct talks between the United States and Iran through this process, though we remain certainly open to that prospect.

Go ahead. I’ll come back to you, Kaitlan. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Question: You mentioned, last week, on infrastructure that you’d like to see progress on the bill by Memorial Day. I’m wondering if you can just define “progress.” What do you want to see happen by Memorial Day?

Psaki: I don’t think I’m going to define progress more than, you know, we hope members will be proposing ideas. We hope that there will be constructive discussions. We hope that there’ll be committees meeting. But we’ll leave it to Hill leadership to define what progress looks like.

Question: And just back on Senator Blunt’s proposal about a smaller package: Is it out of the question for the White House to split up the infrastructure package, or is that something the President would be willing to do?

Psaki: Well, we certainly expect it. And it has played out that some will believe that the package we proposed is too small; some will believe it’s too big. And we’re happy to have discussions with members who have both points of view.

But at the end of the day, the package that the President proposed makes a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure, rebuilds our economy, helps create 19 million jobs. And, you know, we’re hopeful that others will come forward with ideas that are as bold and innovative and will help do the same type of work for American workers and our economy.

Question: And then, also, just one more on the American Families Plan. I think you said that you expected that — Biden to talk about that sometime at the end of April. I’m just wondering if you can give a specific timeline on that. And would the strategy there be to try to pass that at the same time as infrastructure, or would you wait until after an infrastructure package gets across the finish line?

Psaki: We’re not going to — I’m not going to be able to outline the legislative strategy for a package we haven’t proposed yet. But I said at the time “in the coming weeks,” but I don’t have anything more specific than that at this point in time.

Go ahead, Kaitlan.

Question: Just to follow on Jordan: The budget, are we not going to get it until there’s a budget director in place?

Psaki: No, no. I didn’t mean to convey that message. He was asking what the impact — what the delay was caused by, and largely, it was caused by intransigence in part during the transition. But also, we didn’t have a confirmed budget director for a period of time, so that is a factor too. So that was answering that part of his question.

Question: So we’ll get the budget before there’s actually a budget director in place.

Psaki: Well, there’ll be a couple of different components. And these terms are so Washington, but here we are. So there’s the discretionary guidance, which would be the first piece of this — which would be short, not a very long document; a skinny budget; and a longer budget. So there’s usually a couple different components that would come out.

Question: Okay. And back on infrastructure: The White House is saying that they are open to alternative proposals from other lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — but Roy Blunt has put one forward. It’s $600 billion. It’s a more traditional definition of infrastructure. So is the White House open to anything that he has laid out in this proposal, or — that he says he’s pitched directly to the White House?

Psaki: Well, I think what I was conveying is that it’s time for people to be bolder and more forward-looking about what infrastructure looks like.

Infrastructure is not just the roads we get a horse and buggy across. Infrastructure is about broadband. It’s about replacing lead pipes so people have water. It’s about rebuilding our schools. And so, of course, we’re happy to hear proposals, but, you know, I think this — the definition of infrastructure we have a disagreement about.

Question: So what is the White House’s definition of infrastructure exactly?

Psaki: Well, I think it’s what I went through earlier when Alex asked the question, which is clearly a number of the items I just talked about. It is rebuilding schools. It is rebuilding our nation’s waterways. It is ensuring that we can rebuild pipes so that we don’t have kids with lead in their drinking water. It is rebuilding the backbone and the infrastructure of our workforce, because there are 2 million women who are out of the workforce who, hopefully, if we could help them with caregiving, will be able to rejoin.

So there are a number of components that I outlined earlier but that we believe define how we can invest in an innovative, forward-looking way in our economy, in our workers, create jobs. And that’s the proposal we put forward and we look forward to having discussions about.

Question: So one thing that Senator Blunt proposed was paying for it, and user fees and other revenue streams that’s not raising the corporate tax rate. And in this proposal that we have from the President: 8 years of spending, 15 years of taxes. So what happened? What is his defense to lawmakers who ask, “What happens when he’s not President and the Congress is different and if they repealed those tax changes?

Psaki: Well, then —

Question: How do you pay for it then?

Psaki: Well, then — then I hope you’d be asking whoever is standing right here — who might be a Republican — if they rolled them back, that exact question at the time.

But our view is that the corporate tax rate, which again is — we are proposing it be at a rate that is still lower than it was in 2017 and lower than it was from between World War Two and 2017.

Our view is that corporations can pay more, not that it should be on the backs of consumers and the American people through user fees, which is exactly what it would be.

Question: My last question is on what happened with Johnson & Johnson that is — this vaccine being produced at the Emergent plant in Baltimore, not too far away. Of course, we saw what happened, you know, last week and over the weekend where there was a mix-up in what would have amounted to 15 million one-shot doses, which is a lot for what we’re trying to do. So what was the President’s reaction to that?

Psaki: To the — to the news? What — well, I would first say that —

Question: To the fact that we’re not getting 15 million doses right now that could have been made for American people.

Psaki: Well it’s not exactly what happened, because we are still on track to have the number of doses we need to vaccinate all adult Americans by the end of May. This was not even a facility that was approved by the FDA. So we were not betting on these doses; we were betting on doses coming from Moderna, Pfizer. And also, Johnson & Johnson has assured us that we will be getting the 24 million doses that they have promised in April.

At the same time, there were still steps — led through a process by HHS — put in place, to take steps over the weekend to ensure that Johnson & Johnson is the only drug that is being produced at this site, given that the issue, as you well know, Kaitlan, was about the cross-contamination of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

So there were still take — steps taken to address this moving forward, but we were not betting on these to vaccinate the American public — the adult Americans that we have assured people we will have enough doses by the end of May. We remain — we continue to believe we will.

Question: But is he worried that something like this happening can affect vaccine hesitancy that we’re already seeing in the United States?

Psaki: Well, we haven’t seen that to date, but this is why the FDA approval process is in place. In many ways, it was the process working, because the FDA had not approved this site. There were steps taken to address what some of the issues were. And we also have a range of contingency plans.

You know, when we all talk in here about, “Why did we order so many doses? Why aren’t we at the point where we are sharing doses with every country around the world?” — part of it is because we need to plan for things coming up. Things like this come up.

This is obviously, as you noted, a big number of doses, but there are — we have to plan for a range of contingencies. That’s exactly what we did. That’s one of the many reasons that we’re going to still be in a place where we have enough vaccines for adult Americans by the end of May.

Go ahead, in the back.

Question: On infrastructure, does the President support the idea of a possible second reconciliation if the White House proposal does not receive any Republican support?

Psaki: Well, we believe with 80 percent of the public supporting infrastructure investment, with even proposals coming forward supporting components of the package, that if we start on areas where we agree, we can move forward with bipartisan support.

Question: And any more background you can provide on which lawmakers, specifically Republicans, the White House is reaching out to and inviting to the White House for meetings?

Psaki: Not yet. I’m sure when we have a meeting set and we have the members all confirmed, we’ll share the names with you, of course, once that’s done.

Question: And one more on COVID. With the rise of new variants, is the administration investing in booster shots or ramp-up in production of booster shots or research and development for a new vaccine to deal with the many variants?

Psaki: Sure. Well, one of the issues that we’ve been focused on is, again, ensuring that we have flexibility as it relates to vaccine doses that we have ordered. That could include — now, the FDA is still going through the process of approval for booster shots and determining, of course, what’s needed and when. We would — we would leave it to them and the CDC, of course, to make that determination and announcement, but we do have flexibility in the doses we’ve purchased, moving forward, should that be a need.

Question: Just to clarify that point: Is Operation Warp Speed still in effect, or would this be a continuation of that to address the investment in additional vaccine?

Psaki: Well, companies are still — are producing booster shots and options. They’re being — you know, they’re being reviewed by the FDA. So I’m not sure — that’s just a process that’s ongoing with companies and HHS.

Go — go ahead. Oh, sorry, let me — let me just get around to everybody, and then I’ll come back. Go ahead.

Question: Yeah, Chief of Staff Ron Klain said last week that President Biden has asked the U.S. Department of Education to prepare a memo on the President’s legal authority to cancel student debt. What exactly has the White House asked for here?

And in the past, President Biden has said he would be prepared to write off $10,000 in debt but not $50,000, like some liberals and Democrats have asked for. Is Biden rethinking his position? And is he reconsidering his position on the idea of canceling debt of students who attended more expensive private schools?

Psaki: Well, first, he continues to look — look forward to — he’d welcome a bill signed by — or passed by Congress, I should say, to cancel $10,000 in student debt. And he’d be — happily sign that. I think that would naturally be the first step before it’s a larger amount beyond there.

What Ron Klain was referring to is the fact that there’s an ongoing review — it’s both a policy review and a legal review, so Department of Education and Department of Justice — to look at what the options are and what authority could be recommended to the President. So that was the process he was referring to.

Question: If he’s asking what options are available, does that mean whether he could do it to $50,000? And does that mean that it’s, therefore, open as a possibility for the White House?

Psaki: Yeah, it’s — his pol- — his position hasn’t changed. There’s a review to take a look at what is possible with executive authority.

Question: But he has indicated he doesn’t think that’s a good proposal. During the town hall back in February, he very much — he was outspoken against the $50,000 threshold. So where does he stand on that at this point?

Psaki: And, again, after that point in time, Ron Klain and others have spoken with a range of leaders in Congress, and we’ve said many times from this podium that there is an ongoing review of what the options are that are possible under executive authority. There’s also a policy review, as would be expected, at the same time. We haven’t ruled out options, but that review is ongoing and there isn’t a conclusion of it.

Let me just go — go ahead.

Question: Thanks. I have an infrastructure and a baseball question, if you accept it.

Psaki: Okay.

Question: So, last week, the White House put out a factsheet about the infrastructure plan that cited the Texas power outage as evidence of the urgent need to modernize the nation’s electric grid, which kind of leaves the implication that Texas will get funding to upgrade its grid, but I haven’t seen that specifically. So can you offer assurance that there actually would be money in this for Texas to modernize, upgrade, weatherize its grid?

Psaki: Well, this is, believe it or not — you will believe it, of course — a very common question from a lot of reporters and media outlets across the country. We will — we will have some state factsheets, I expect soon, that kind of break down some of the specifics. There are pieces like broadband access and other things, but there’ll be a competitive bidding process once the bill is signed into law. And we probably won’t have more to say that specifically until


Question: So that — actually, that’s — I think that’s a really vague part of the plan. What do you mean by a “competitive bidding process”? Is this like — how do the top bridges or power grids get chosen? I mean, is it a formu- — do you envision a formula based on state population, or is a federal department deciding which is a more critical project than another?

Psaki: It’s — we’re not quite there yet. We just proposed this a couple of days ago. A “competitive bidding process” — which I think most Americans would support — would mean that states or entities have to apply for funding for rebuilding the infrastructure in their states and through local communities or whatever it may be.

What the tenets and the specific logistics of that competitive bidding process would be, I’m sure there’ll be discussions. Members will have different views. They’ll all be advocating for different projects; we certainly expect that. But we’re in the early stages of the process and —

Question: So these congressional meetings, these are not about putting specific projects on a list?

Psaki: No.

Question: Okay.

My baseball question is: Today’s home opener for the Texas Rangers is the first major league sports event since the pandemic started that — excuse me — that allows an open — a full — a full house. The President called that a “mistake” last week. Has he spoken to other team owners to try to deter them and get them to hold off from having full-house events?

Psaki: I don’t have any calls from the President to baseball team owners to read out. I would say that the President continues to reiterate the need to follow public health guidelines. There are restrictions, as you well know, recommended, including on masking, social distancing — which, of course, applies to having a full stadium — and the importance of being vigilant, even while we’re at war with this virus. We have seen spikes in certain parts of the country, certain regions in the country. That’s something we’re closely watching. And just a reminder of how important it is to be vigilant.

Question: Are any of — very last question — are any federal assets going to be used to track whether this event actually does lead to a spike?

Psaki: I would send that question to the CDC.

Go ahead.

Question: Thank you very much, Jen. I have a question about immigration. President Biden has spoken publicly about how, during the Obama administration, he worked with Central American countries and has talked about how he was — helped negotiate getting $700 million in aid to help those countries prevent the flow of migrants coming in to work. What lessons did the President learn from that experience that he’s applying to dealing with the crisis now?

Psaki: Well, I think one of the reasons the President asked — and tell me if this is answering your question — but one of the reasons the President asked his Vice President to play a similar role that he played is because he recognizes that unless we address the root causes in these countries; unless we disincentivize young people, families leaving these countries; we improve the economic conditions; we create spaces for them to be in these countries that avoids the corruption that is in place in many of the governments, we will continue to go through cycle after cycle.

Some of these programs — and, obviously, the funding was not advanced during the last administration, and some of the programs were reversed.

So, you know, his experience impacts him and affects him because he knows we need to address the current challenges we’re having at the border; those are immediate. But in order to address it longer term, we need to address the root causes in the countries.

Question: Is his expectation snapping back the funding that was cut during the Trump administration, or are there additional things that he’s expecting to see implemented?

Psaki: In the region?

Question: Yes.

Psaki: Well, he’s proposed $4 billion in funding in his immigration proposal, so he certainly believes that we need more. It’s not just reinstituting programs; we also need more, and we need to build from there. And he expects to, of course, be briefed by our envoy, who’s going to be back and forth in the region; others who will be involved; and of course, the Vice President, who will be very closely involved in these conversations as well.

Question: And when can we expect — on climate — when can we expect to see the U.S. commitments under the Paris agreement that the U.S. announced it would reenter on February 4? When can the public see what those U.S. commitments are going to look like?

Psaki: When — well, I expect when we have our Climate Summit in a couple of weeks, there’ll be an update, and we’ll discuss more on a big, national stage with the bully pulpit what — where we are going from here, where we are, where we’re going from here. And, of course, Gina McCarthy and other members of our climate team — former Secretary John Kerry — are hard at work on putting together plans and working to implement.

Go ahead, in the back.

Question: Thank you, Jen. Two questions. First, in response to Kelly’s question earlier, you reiterated the U.S.’s strong support for Jordan and for King Abdullah as a strong ally. Now, the reports about the arrest of the deposed Crown Prince and 20 others are now 24 hours old. Has the President made any calls to the King in Amman reiterating that support?

Psaki: I don’t have any calls to read out. What I tried to convey to Kelly was that those calls or those engagements would likely happen out of the State Department at this point in time.

Question: All right. The other thing on the infrastructure package: There is a private memo that’s being circulated in the business community and to some Republican senators that said that the $2.25 trillion price tag is $1 trillion off, and that there’s many things in there that were omitted in the initial discussion of the bill — notably, the $300 billion energy tax credit, the $100 billion for the Green Bank — and that these things would add $1 trillion to it. This is being circulated on the Hill. Do you have any response to the charge that the President lowballed the price tag on the infrastructure bill?

Psaki: Sounds mysterious, the memo — the secret memo.

Question: Well, confidential.

Psaki: Are you saying — just so I understand your question, are you saying there are things the President didn’t put in his proposal people think he’s going to add to his proposal?

Question: No, there’s things there that somebody went through it, or is claiming to have gone through it, and added it up and came up with $1 trillion more than the President listed as the price tag. So it is actually $3.25 trillion as opposed to —

Psaki: Well, we laid out very specifically each component of the package and how much we’re proposing. So I would encourage you all to get your calculators out and charge that up, and see how it compares to the secret memo.

Oh, wait — go ahead, in the back, and then we can come back around to the front. Go ahead.

Question: Thank you, Jen. The CDC updated the COVID-related travel guidance last Friday.

Psaki: Yep.

Question: Is the administration considering loosening some international travel restriction?

Psaki: I don’t have anything to predict on that front. Obviously, that would be done by our health and medical experts, and we’d refer to them for any timeline on the guidelines.

Question: And just a follow-up: Will you accept other vaccines that are approved by other countries that’s not approved by FDA yet?

Psaki: Will we accept them here in the United States?

Question: Yeah — as, like, qualified vaccines.

Psaki: I may not be totally understanding your question. We have — we are — we have ordered supply from the three vaccines that have been approved by the FDA. That’s what we’re focused on distributing to the American public. So I would anticipate we continue to focus on the vaccines that are FDA-approved.

Go ahead. You’ve been very patient.

Question: Thanks. I just have a question that’s a follow-up to Kaitlan’s question —

Psaki: Okay. Sure.

Question: — on Emergent, and that’s about: What does it mean — now that J&J is, sort of, taking over that facility wholesale, what does that mean for the AstraZeneca vaccine? And will it affect their ability to manufacture here in the United States, or will that production domestically now shrink?

Psaki: Well, first, we’re working with AstraZeneca to immediately identify other facilities to continue their domestic manufacture of AstraZeneca drug substance. And several options are under consideration. As you know, it hasn’t been approved — AstraZeneca — through the FDA yet. Johnson & Johnson has, hence the importance of Johnson & Johnson production continuing to be expedited.

Question: Thanks.

Psaki: Sure. Go ahead.

Go ahead.

Question: So, a SALT question. Just trying to make certain I understand where you are with taxation —

Psaki: Okay.

Question: — on the individual level. On Friday, in the President’s remarks in the State Dining Room, he said, “I won’t raise a penny tax on a family making less than $400,000 a year.” Last week there were some questions about this; you also included individuals. So is it families, joint filers, individuals? Is that threshold determined?

Psaki: It is — he will not raise taxes on any individual or family making more than $400,000 a year. We expect there’ll be more specifics on what he’s proposing — some of the things that he’s talked about on the campaign trail, as it relates to individuals, as we get closer to the rollout of the Families Plan.

Go ahead.

Question: Was that me?

Psaki: That’s you.

Question: Got it. Thank you.

Psaki: And then —

Question: A quick one. So, in California, as the school districts decide how to reopen, the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, their members are asking for free childcare for their own kids — for the teachers’ kids to go back. Does the White House think that that is something that they should get?

Psaki: I would point you to the State of California and the local school districts to have those discussions.

Question: And then, just one more quick one on Georgia, to put a bow on it. Is the President going to change the way that he talks about the new Georgia voting law? Because in that interview that you referenced, he said, the law would end voting “at five o’clock when working people are just getting off.” And he said it would end voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.

But the Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios because that part of the law gives counties the option to extend voting hours. And so I’m just curious if the President is going to change the way that he’s talking about it.

Psaki: Well, fundamentally, the President doesn’t believe it should be made harder to vote; he believes it should be easier. And this bill makes it harder to request and return an absentee ballot. It collapses the length of Georgia’s runoff election, making it harder for large jurisdictions to offer early voting. It imposes rigid new restrictions on local officials’ ability to set polling hours to suit the needs of voters in their county. Those are all pieces of the bill.

So his view is that we need to make it easier and not harder to vote, and that will continue to be what he advocates for.

Question: But the thing he said has been determined by election law experts to be not true. So I’m just curious if he’s going to stop saying that.

Psaki: Well, again, I think we can — the fact checkers will also tell you that this bill does not make it easier for people across the state of Georgia to vote, and that’s where he has concerns.

Go ahead. Yeah.

Question: On semiconductors, you’ve got this April 12th meeting up with — coming up with senior officials, but also from industry.

Psaki: Mm-hmm.

Question: Can you give us a list of companies that’ll be participating in that?

And then, there was a report out on Japanese media saying that the President and the Japanese Prime Minister were working toward an agreement of supply chain — shoring up the supply chain for semiconductors. Can you say anything more about what your — whether there is some kind of agreement in the works and what you’re expecting to come out of both of those meetings?

Psaki: Well, first, I expect when we get closer to the meeting, we will have — and we have a confirmed list of participants, we will share the list of companies and participants with you, but probably not until we get much closer to that actual meeting.

As it relates to Japan, as we’ve made clear, the U.S.-Japan alliance is a cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the region, and that is one of the reasons why we’re working to deepen our close coordination across a variety of areas, including supply chains, as Secretary of State Blinken discussed with his counterpart last month.

But in terms of specifics of those discussions and what’s possible in the future, I just don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time.

Question: Sorry, can I just do one quick follow to Peter?

Psaki: Yeah.

Question: The President does acknowledge that the new law doesn’t change Election Day voting hours, right?

Psaki: Well, look, Kaitlan, it also doesn’t expand them for early voting, and makes early voting shorter. So there are a lot of components of the legislation he is concerned about, and that’s what he was expressing.

Question: Right. But does he — he does acknowledge that?

Because his comments had been confusing about closing it at 5:00 p.m.

Psaki: That’s correct.

Question: So he does acknowledge that it doesn’t change the voting —

Psaki: I think what’s important is to report on all of the components that make it more difficult to vote in the package in the legislation.

All right. So, we have a special guest. (Laughter.) I will say that we know that this is one of the events where people get to take their children, family members, friends to. And it’s not quite the same. We’ll do a big one next year, but we still wanted to have a visitor and some special commemorative Easter eggs for all of you from — from the President and the First Lady.

Question: Is the bunny taking questions?

Psaki: Not today, but we’ll invite the bunny back for a future briefing, as always.

But the bunny is wearing a mask. Were you — take no — use every opportunity.

Question: Is this the same bunny suit that Sean Spicer wore, do we know? (Laughter.)

Psaki: Uh, it does not look similar, but we’ll have to fact-check that for you. Different eyelashes.

Are we giving those out?

AIDE: Yes, we’re going to save them with Chris.

Psaki: All right. Chris is going to be the bunny’s helper. He will be delivering eggs and make sure each of you get one and some chocolates to take home to your loved ones.

Question: Thank you, Jen.

Psaki: Thank you, everyone. 2:29 P.M. EDT

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